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Variability in human purpose

May 13, 2009

I was reading a post at Ray/Papa D’s Things of My Soul, which ACTUALLY was a comment from an older By Common Consent post, and I was struck by a thoughtful emotional process of two parts of me waging war inside. To begin, let’s look at the quoted comment.

“I had a very powerful internal physical feeling that life was completely meaningless back when I was an atheist. Now I have the opposite feeling deeply in my bones, that every situation, every tiny act and every fleeting moment have meaning far beyond my ability to comprehend. Somehow since developing a partnership with God, this has happened to me. It’s not something I chose. It’s as physical as an adolescent’s developing sexuality. As physical as suicidal depression. It just happened.

I think the meaning of life, rather than being any sort of intellectual left-brained thing, is just this physical feeling, the joy of drawing breath, of looking, of being alive.

How I ache for those who don’t feel it.”

I wonder if you can see where my conflict was?

I had an intense desire to just tear this comment into two…how could Tatiana suggest that atheism necessitates a nihilism that leads to meaningless depression? It seemed to wrap up so many ideas: that atheism is too rational for feeling or wonder, or that those who believe are like those who have “developed” into maturity and atheists are merely like prepubescent kids who don’t know what love is.

Yes, that was my dark side.

But on the other hand, I wanted to be reasonable. I wanted to share kinder words. I believe that more effective than *telling* someone they are wrong  (a competitive, destructive path) is *showing* that you’re right through actions (which is actually harmonious — if all sides show they are right without reducing to telling others they are wrong, then we find that a multitude of beliefs can work together — many kinds can be right.)

I had come from another blog whose author was…I dunno…feeling kinda down on herself (she lamented how few comments she received, but even after some people suggested what she could do to inspire more comments, she didn’t seem to get it.) Commenting at that blog made me feel a kind of mercy or peace or warmheartedness — the stuff I think the church is always trying to go for.

However, it took me another commenter on Ray’s blog for me to figure out the way I could approach the quotation positively:

It’s funny how powerful this idea is–that a person’s belief is “not something they chose” and that it is as real as “an adolescent’s developing sexuality.”

What makes it funny is that people who accept such an unchosen reality in this context may be the same people who fight it tooth and nail when applied to its opposing circumstance. Belief can come to us unbidden, but disbelief? No, no, disbelief is a choice we make..many atheists discover a new, deeper appreciation for life’s importance at the same time they recognize their disbelief in God. If this life is all we have, to some it matters more, not less, how it is spent.

Indeed, this incorporated so many ideas I had thought about (see, name of blog). It seems to me that belief and disbelief aren’t chosen, and in fact, Tatiana had alluded to that in her message, but I wouldn’t focus on that part. Instead, I raised up barriers and ammunitions and failed to realize that she had not threatened me at all.

I fully recognize that different people can have different experiences. I fully recognize that for people of true faith, this faith is intuitive and integral to their lives. So, I have usually been very non-evangelical about atheism, because I know I resent others evangelizing to me. Instead, I do feel that people should try to find their niche belief (and I should certainly hope that this niche belief, whatever it is, doesn’t infringe upon others’.) And so I wrote a comment too at Things of My Soul.

In the end, I recognize the diversity and variability of human thought, belief, and purpose. This is not something to be feared. Although I will say (possibly ruining the good track I had going on for the entire article, but oh well)…it is strange that there is so much comfort found in vastly different (and contradictory) belief systems. It seems to me, then, that these systems may not be indicative of larger universal trends, but instead represent personal, subjective trends that will naturally differ for each person.

…or maybe I’m just one of those atheists futilely projecting meaning onto a universe that must be meaningless. Geez, that people really think that is kinda annoying.

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  1. Nice post Andrew, and props for the insight you had. I have often shook my head at fundamentalist-leaning mormons who later leave the faith and become just as fundamentalist-leaning on the other side, which is often atheism. All this says to me is that the approach one takes to spiritual matters is more about the person than the ideology.

  2. I think too that some dramatic flips may be because of the nature of this beast. If you have been rather strong in your belief in something, strong enough to be considered “fundamentalist-leaning,” and then some terrible event happens that shakes your foundation…then wouldn’t the pain be so great that you *would* hazard a shift so far to the other side?

    It’s not like tragedies happen and people just stop caring. Rather, they often get angry.

  3. Nice insight, Andrew.

    I have been fascinated for a long time with how different people see things in different ways – and it has led me to be very careful of judging others based strictly on their perspectives.

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